Book, Music and Lyrics by Clark Gesner and additional material by Andrew Lippa and Michael Mayer
Directed by Michael Unger
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited
The new production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” at the York Theater Company would seem to be a clever idea, using age appropriate actors to portray the renowned Peanuts characters, especially after a successful concert version at “54 Below.” The difficulty with this concept is that the show was not written for children to perform. The vocals needed for many of the songs require mature voices with a wide range and adequate support to sustain the notes that are important to the humor and emotional content. The book is sophisticated and difficult for a child to comprehend, especially when dealing with the timing and the delivery needed to convey the message. What is so appealing about this show when performed by adults is that they become cartoon characters because they are not age appropriate but they have the knowledge, experience and vocal range to sustain the script. They may appear to be silly but actually are remarkably perceptive. It then has the ability to please children and adults on different levels.
This is not a question of whether the performances of the actors in this particular production are adequate rather than whether the casting was age appropriate for the material. At the matinee performance I attended there were many families or parents with children in the audience. The children – although well behaved – became restless midway through the first hour-long act. The characters they were watching were not animated, they were their peers. Adults seemed unresponsive to the intelligent and perceptive script mainly because, at times, the actors/characters had difficulty perceiving the humor in the intended meaning and this lack of perception affected the timing. It might have been an enjoyable afternoon but the show did not live up to its potential. Even when seeing these characters in a comic strip or television special they have the look of being little animated adults rather children. There is something magical about adults finding the child in them. There is something missing – the charm perhaps – when children find the adult in themselves.
The music is delightful with pianist Eric Svejcar at the helm as conductor assuring at all times that the music is the driving force. The scenic design by Brian Prather is adequate but the costumes by Grier Coleman could be a bit brighter and more imaginative. Perhaps after a few performances under their belt this talented group of young performers will become more confident as they bring the Peanuts gang to life on the stage.